Maryland’s Invasive SpeciesPosted on: April 17, 2019 By: FHMD
Maryland is celebrated for its access to water. It’s the birthplace, nursery, and playground for many Atlantic fish, teeming with life and migrating animals from all over the world. Because the state’s unique habitats, its marine biodiversity is hard to match. The state’s range of salinity levels makes it easy to see how so many different species of fish thrive here. All these elements and factors have made Maryland a suitable host for just about any kind of temperate climate fish.
Integrating new fish in a foreign body of water earns them the title of “invasive species.” Whether they were planned to be introduced by an organization or independent entities, invasive species in our area have boomed in popularity for our local sportsmen. Both fresh and saltwater fishermen have recently been targeting more and more invasive species that are turning up in our waters.
In the 1850s, the largemouth bass was introduced into local waterways and has since thrived all over the state. This invasive species is now considered the most popular sportfish in the United States. Recently, there have been a few new species that have been climbing the popularity chain.
Two of the newest invasive species I’ve targeted are flathead catfish and the northern snakehead. Like many enthusiastic anglers, I too have set my sights on “invasives” when news of them hits the mainstream.
The first invasive species I encountered was in 2011. I had begun my prospects on a new species in our most northern part of the Chesapeake Bay’s tributaries: flathead catfish. It was introduced into the Susquehanna River and had begun to populate the river’s Maryland portion. The fish began its journey in Pennsylvania – where it was introduced – and grew far throughout the 444-mile river system. I was just becoming familiar with the Conowingo Dam at the time and was still learning from the locals how to catch striped bass in the dam pools.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources had begun a campaign on the discovery of invasive species and posted photos and illustrations of the fish at local state parks and boat launches. Not long after, I witnessed flatheads being caught one day while we targeted striped bass. With a little ingenuity, we discovered how to target the catfish.
Our findings showed us these were not your typical catfish – they have huge mouths that create a vacuum for inhaling its prey much like bass. With this knowledge, we applied artificial lure techniques to catch them. It is much harder to anchor a live-bait set up to catch them in that area, as the river current there can be fast. Instead, we used inline sinkers with lures on the end much like the lures we used for striped bass. Sinking these lures to the bottom and then snap jigging them 12 inches off the bottom put our lures in the strike zone.
Flathead catfish stay near the bottom and will live in dens – especially during the spawn. With a little thought and a lot of casting, we all came together as a group at the base of the dam that year to target the flathead. Flathead populations in Maryland have stabilized in that region, but you can catch them regularly if you try.
In 2015, the northern snakehead sparked my curiosity. This fish has made a remarkable impact on Maryland’s waterways, spreading from one end of the state to the other, before recently moving to neighboring states. Its growth and reproduction rates are unlike any other species in the country. First making their way to the United States. as aquarium pets, these creatures are a phenomenal fish to target many sport fishermen. It has a fierce bite and strong muscles making it a desirable fish to have on the end of your line. This fish can fight with the strength of a striper and acrobatics of a largemouth. They are easily caught with any available bass lures mimicking the local wildlife.
Snakehead popularity has evolved with the digital world as well, making its presence more impactful as anglers turn to social media for their fishing entertainment and information. The fish itself has been around only for roughly 20 years in our waters. Lots of time, money, and research has gone into learning more about this fish, much of which has led to an understanding of how it is impacting our waters.
These two species alone have propelled my fishing skill level upward and have helped me learn how to become a better angler. What it truly means to be an angler is to harness the passion and skill similar to that of a hunter. I wish everyone well and good luck. Perhaps you will learn to catch more fish by falling in love with the desire to catch a new one.
With no size or creel limit, these invasive species are a great reason to get out and fish. Be sure to visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ online 2019 Maryland Guide to Fishing and Crabbing for fishing licenses and regulations. Also, check out the Plan Your Trip section of our website to find lodging options, fishing charters and guides, and outdoor retailers to get the most out of your fishing trip in Maryland.
Why not add a relaxing road trip to your itinerary while you’re fishing in Maryland? Take a little time with the family on your fishing trip to cruise our state’s scenic byways.
This post was written by fishing guide Don Goff of the Susquehanna River Fishing Club.
Images courtesy of the author as well as Stephen Badger via the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Flickr account.